Cataloguing interface for small collections?

If you are involved with a small specialist library that has a collection of historic/research interest, but which doesn’t currently have a web based catalogue, the Jisc Copac team would be very interested in hearing from you:

  • to improve the visibility of your collections through inclusion in Copac
  • and potentially to provide you with a web catalogue interface for your collection

One of the roles of the Copac union catalogue is to connect the UK (and wider) research community with the research materials they need, whilst helping to promote the contributed collections to the widest possible user community. Copac includes many of the major UK libraries and, with the move of Copac into the Jisc National Bibliographic Knowledgebase (NBK), the number of academic libraries will be increasing. However, we are also focused on incorporating the catalogues of smaller specialist libraries with collections of national and international research interest. By making these smaller catalogues part of Copac we help to make the collections of these, potentially less familiar, libraries visible internationally, increasing their accessibility to the research community.

At the moment we take catalogue records in a range of data formats, but we are aware that not every small library will have an electronic catalogue and an online presence. We have had interest expressed in a simple Copac cataloguing interface that would allow small libraries to create electronic records for their materials, which we might then include in Copac. Such a cataloguing service would not presuppose any understanding of MARC or other data standards and would be aimed primarily at small libraries, with historic collections, that don’t have their own online catalogue.

Before we decide whether we should be developing a simple cataloguing service, we need to have a better sense of which libraries might be interested in such a service.
If you think this would be relevant to your library could you get in touch and let us know the following:

  • Which library are you involved with and what is the size and nature of the collection?
  • Is your collection accessible to researchers and others?
  • What type of catalogue/finding aid do you have currently?
  • Would you use a simple cataloguing interface that allowed you to create and export records in multiple formats, including MARC21?
  • Would you wish to see the records you create included in Copac – moving to the NBK in future?
  • Would you value a local ‘view’ of your data that had the appearance of a local catalogue, allowing you to search and view just your collection?
  • Would you be willing to test and provide feedback on a trial cataloguing interface?

Deadline: We would like expressions of interest by the 31st July 2017.

Please contact us via the Copac helpdesk

Once we have a better understanding of the likely level of interest we can then decide whether to take this work forward and develop a trial cataloguing service.

Interface update: New Sort & Direct Link options

We’ve been making some changes to the Copac interface and adding new facilities. The main developments are:

  • Search results now have an estimated number of records, so for larger results you have a better idea of the number of records involved.
  • The Sort facility can now be used for a result set of up to 2000 records.
  • Where your search includes a title the Sort will include a Title Rank option to bring exactly matching titles to the top of the list.
  • The Full record display now includes a ‘Direct Link’ option. You can copy the direct link and include it in your own documents. This lets you link directly to a specific Copac record without having to search.

In addition the online Help has been updated and expanded to provide more information about managing your search results. There is a ‘Help’ button towards the top right of each screen.

These developments are in response to feedback from people using Copac, so if there are changes or additions you would like to see please get in touch. We are currently working on the deduplication procedures, in particular for pre-1800 materials, and we will be introducing enhancements to this process in due course.

If you have any comments or questions please get in touch with the Copac helpdesk:

New Copac database and revised interface

We’ve released a new Copac database and made a number of revisions to the interface. The most visible changes are:

  • An updated look which will work better with mobile devices.
  • Increased deduplication, including all pre-1800 materials.
  • Clearer indication of document format (eg. print vs electronic).
  • Options to expand merged records. You can look ‘under the bonnet’ of a merged record to see the original individual records supplied by each library, or just a subset of the original records eg. just those for printed materials.

We have currently removed the options for sorting search results. This is a temporary measure, one of a number of changes we have made whilst we assess how the new database performs now it’s in service. We will reintroduce the sort options again once we have a better sense of the overall system performance. We are also looking to move off our old hardware in the near future with one aim being to increase response times.

Changes to the database and interface have been made in response to feedback, in particular balancing concerns about duplicate records vs the desire not to lose access to the original records from each library for early printed materials. We’ve recently been working with Copac users on the interface changes and we’re continuing with interface testing and development later this year. So any feedback you have on the interface will be valuable for us to include into the ongoing development.

Note: The document format identification and deduplication are not perfect, they are both affected by the variability of the data. Deduplication of records for early printed materials has raised particular issues. We have a range of checks to try to deal with some of the record variation in both these ares, but we will be looking further at these in the future.

Missing catalogues:

Four of our contributors changed to a new library system last year, so to ensure we can continue to update their data we need a complete catalogue reload. They have had difficulties successfully exporting data so, currently, four catalogues are missing from Copac. We have been working with one of the libraries and their system supplier to help resolve problems with their data export. This has taken some time, but we should begin the load of the York catalogue shortly. If this goes well we will be aiming to load the other missing catalogues as soon as possible. The libraries affected are:

  • Imperial College London
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Sheffield
  • University of York (including NRM and York Minster)

Ongoing development

The new database and revised interface have involved major changes behind-the-scenes to provide us with a stable base for continued service expansion, as well as the potential to introduce new facilities in the future. We have some ongoing system issues and we’re working to mitigate these in the short term, whilst at the same time planning a move from our old hardware onto a new cloud platform, with a focus on response times.

Keeping in touch

You can stay in touch with Copac activity through:

You can also provide feedback on the service at any time through the Copac helpdesk: as well as by filling in our annual user survey. We really appreciate your feedback and the comments we get help guide the development of the service.

Beta interface trial

We’ve been making some interface changes and we’d appreciate your feedback. Please try the Beta trial interface and use one of the email links on the screens to let us know how you get on. The revised interface works with a new Copac database which we will be releasing by the end of July. Note: both the database and interface are still being actively developed and are subject to change without notice.

There are a number of areas we are still working on but we would value comments at this stage before the soft launch of the interface changes next week. The most visible changes are:

  • We have a done a lot of work on the deduplication and we are now deduplicating all records, including pre-1800 materials.
  • The document format is clearer, eg. does a library have a print or electronic copy.
  • There is an updated look and Copac will work better on mobile devices.

You can continue to use Copac in the same way as before, however, for those wanting to use them there are a couple of new features:

  • Where we deduplicate records from multiple libraries we merge these together as before, however, if you wish you can now expand a merged record to see all the original records as supplied by each library; for example, if you are interested in early printed materials you can still see all the details of each copy.
  • You can also expand a merged record to see just a sub-set of the original records eg. just the records for the print copies.

The interface is a work in progress. We have been working with some Copac users regarding the display changes and we’ll be doing more interface testing later in the year, so any feedback you have will be valuable as part of this ongoing development.

Record error reports button

The eagle-eyed among you may have already spotted that the ‘Does this record have errors?’ button is no longer included in the Copac records.

This feature was introduced, initially as an experiment, a couple of years ago and we’ve been really pleased by the way people have responded – identifying problems and supplying information that we can pass on to our contributors. This helps them clean up their local database and in turn improve Copac.

However, the response has been such that at the moment we can’t keep up with the number of error reports. Our blog post from May 2013 explains the processes and time taken around correcting errors in Copac:

This can usually be absorbed into our workflow but the Copac team has reached a particularly busy point this summer, with two major factors affecting our capacity to deal with the error reports:

* We’re due to release the new Copac database in a few weeks (watch this space!)

* Staff changes mean we’re stretched on the Copac support side at the moment.

The decision to switch off the feature wasn’t taken lightly! However, we do plan to bring this back. We are looking at ways to streamline the handling of error reports to make it easier for us to support, at which point we will reintroduce this feature.

Meanwhile, we’re very grateful to all Copac users who’ve given us feedback using the button.

Record error reports

When we launched the new Copac website in May 2012, we included a small feature as an experimental courtesy. We were occasionally contacted by Copac users to tell us about errors in Copac records, and decided to make this easier for them by introducing a button into each record.

screenshot of report a record error button

Clicking on this opens up an email to the Copac helpdesk, with all the information we need to identify the item.

error report email


This makes it easier for the user to submit the report, and easier for us to find the error. It removes the need for the user to copy and paste the item url, or tell us what they searched for. And it means that we can quickly and reliably see which item the error is in, instead of having to go back to the user to ask for further details.

Before we introduced this feature, we would get reports of errors in Copac about once a month. We thought that the new button would make it easier for those users, and that we would maybe get around ten times as many reports. We were unprepared for what actually happened.

In a year, we have received over 1000 record error reports. 1054, to be precise, working out at just under 3 a day. For a while after launch, we were getting reports in the double figures every day. This has settled down now, and some days we don’t get any at all – but there’s still the occasional day when the trickle becomes a flood again, and there seems to be a new error report every time we open the inbox.

Because we weren’t expecting such a high volume of reports, we hadn’t planned how to deal with them. The Copac helpdesk is staffed on a rota, with staff answering queries a couple of days a week alongside their other work. I’m sure you can imagine the effect this sudden influx of extra queries had, especially as we were just figuring out how to deal with them. We also hadn’t warned the contributing libraries about them, and had to hastily email them to warn them to expect the error reports, and ask them to nominate an email address for us to send them to.

Not all record error reports are created equal. A report of a typo in a record held at a single library is quickly dealt with: we email the library, including the error report, and ask them to look at it. As Copac is deduplicated, there is often more than one library mentioned in each record – but each library might not have the error. For instance, where different subjects have been assigned, these are all incorporated into the consolidated record.

multiple subjects


multiple librariesIf there’s an error in one of these, we would need to look through all of the original MARC records to see where the error lies. Some records on Copac might have come from 20 or more MARC records, which can take quite a chunk of time out of your day.

Once we’ve contacted the library (or libraries), we reply to the reporter to thank them for letting us know, and telling them that we have passed the information on to the library, and any changes they make will be reflected on Copac the next time they send us an update.

This is crucial: the records on Copac remain the property of the contributing libraries, and we don’t make any changes to them ourselves. The library with the error will make the change in their local catalogue, and then send us an updated version of the record. This means that not only is Copac being improved, but the local library catalogue, too.

And often this improvement can be quite significant. Fixing a typo in a title can mean that a record which might have been undiscoverable before is now more visible to those who are interested. Copac users also report misattributions (my favourite recently being an anthropology PhD thesis, wrongly credited to Enid Blyton); information about pseudonymynous authors; extra biographical, historical or contextual information; translation or transliteration errors; and information about particular imprints or ownership of rare books.

At the moment we just send this information on to the libraries, where it will usually find its way into the catalogue in some form, but we’re definitely considering how we might be able to share some of this rich and valuable information with all Copac users, and the wider scholarly community.

Now that record error reports are an expected part of our workflow, they’ve become a source of amusement and enlightenment – though you might not believe it if you’ve heard me groan at the discovery of another ISBN that’s been assigned non-uniquely. We really are deeply grateful for users who take the time and make the effort to help improve this valuable bibliographic data for everyone. Just form an orderly queue behind the error button…

Cookies & Copac

With the move to the new Copac interface we have been revising our ‘Privacy and cookies’ page to update the details about our use of cookies.

For those not familiar with cookies, these are small files that a web site may place on your computer. These cookies can be used for many different reasons, but on Copac they serve three main functions:

To provide support for your research

We set Copac cookies to record your current search and display choices. This allows us to present you with your chosen search or display option rather than constantly reverting to the default. It’s about letting Copac support your search and display preferences, thus being a little easier to use.

  • For example, if you are searching for maps, each time you return to the search screen the Map Search form will be displayed. If we don’t use a cookie you will always be taken to the default Quick Search form and you’ll then need to select the Map search form again to do a new search.

We also use AddThis to provide a social networking facility, so you can share information more easily via a wide range of social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, or just via email.

To provide a Shibboleth sign in to Copac

Members of UK academic institutions will have a Shibboleth login, which you can use to sign in to Copac to gain access to additional facilities. In particular:

  • The Search History, which you can use as a record of your research. You can edit this just to retain the most useful searches, add notes and tags, as well as edit and re-run previous searches.
  • My References: As you review the results of your searches you can mark records of interest, adding these to My References. This is a reference list that you can edit, adding notes and tags to records, and selectively export records.

If you decide to block Copac cookies the Shibboleth sign in will no longer function.

To record general usage information

It is valuable for us to have access to information about how Copac is being used. This helps us to understand how people use Copac and to ensure we are providing the right support. It allows us to ask questions such as: ‘last month what proportion of Copac searchers used a mobile device such as an iPad?’ and to look at changing trends in use over time. We have seen big increases in mobile access over recent months so we know this is an area where we need to do further work on the Copac interface.

To gather this usage data we use Google Analytics. If you wish, you can opt out of being tracked by Google Analytics across all websites, see:

Managing cookies

Your web browser will normally allow you to manage cookies, so you can selectively accept or refuse cookies from different sources, as well as deleting existing cookies. The ‘All About Cookies’ site is a useful place to learn more.

There are full details about Copac cookie use on our ‘Privacy and cookies’ page

Announcing the new Copac interface and design…

A tremendous amount has been going on behind the scenes of Copac for quite a period of time now.  Like everyone across the sector we’re working at what feels like full tilt  —  tackling multiple projects, and figuring out as a team how to juggle and prioritise it all.  We’re undertaking quite a few JISC innovations projects, including the work with developing a shared service prototype for a recommender API based on aggregated circulation data, a considerable amount of effort is being invested in the Copac Collections Management project, we’ve been collaborating with our colleagues across the office on Linked Data research and development, working closely with the Discovery initiative, and our developers (namely Ashley Sanders) have just about cracked the new database design and algorithms that will address some of the major duplication issues we are currently challenged with as a national aggregator of bibliographic records.

Image of the Copac websiteIn order to understand and meet the needs of our current user-base (800,000 search sessions per month, and counting) we’ve also been conducting market research in the form of surveys, focus groups and interviews with our users and stakeholders. We’ve amassed a lot of knowledge about how Copac is used, its benefit to academics and librarians, the features most valued in the interface, and what we could be doing better (deduplication! Ebook records and access!) We still have a way to go to meet all these needs, and as a service with a ‘perpetual beta ethos,’ committed to innovation, we know we’ll never be ‘done’ with this work.

But the launch of the new interface and design today is a very significant milestone, and one we want to mark.  These changes are the product of a great deal of committed work to the principles of market research and user-centred design. Thanks to the efforts of Mimas web developers Leigh Morris and Shiraz Anwar, the new application interface positively reflects the real world user-journeys of Copac users, and has been rigorously tested to ensure it’s in line with those needs. The new graphic design has been developed to communicate the value proposition of Copac as a JISC service representing Research Libraries, and also as a tool to Research Libraries.  Mimas’ new graphic designer has done an excellent job of transforming a site that was out of date, (‘lacked depth’ and ‘cold’ I believe are words used) into something more engaging, reflecting the breadth and richness of the libraries that make up Copac.  Certainly, beyond providing an excellent resource discovery experience for end users (and this is why the simplicity and ease of use of the search and personalisation tools are our primary focus) it is important for us to communicate on behalf of JISC that Copac is a community-driven initiative, made possible by its contributors and representative bodies like RLUK. We hope that the new elements of the website represent this community feel, giving Copac a bit more of an engaging voice than perhaps we’ve previously had.

A big vote of thanks to my fantastic Copac and Mimas colleagues, and particularly those who have worked quite a few late nights and weekends lately: Shirley Cousins, Ashley Sanders, Leigh Morris, Lisa Jeskins, and Beth Ruddock. Thanks to Shiraz Anwar for his work earlier in this project in ensuring every detail of the interface design reflected user needs. Thanks also to Janine Rigby and Lisa Charnock from the Mimas Marketing team for the market research work, and working with us to identify the value proposition and identity of Copac, and to Ben Perry for translating that so swiftly into a design we all instantly agreed on.

Spotlight on the team behind the new Copac website and design: interface design

Creating the new Copac interface.

As you might be aware the Copac team have been hard at work transforming the Copac service. We have been busy re-engineering the database and creating a new user interface and website. A couple of weeks ago my colleague Beth and I went to chat to our user experience (UX) designers Shiraz Anwar and Leigh Morris.

How did the process start?

We asked Shiraz, “Where on earth do you begin when you’re tasked with a project to redesign a web interface”? The answer? You start with the user! His first question to the Copac team was “What information have you got on your users?” Shiraz wanted to see all of the information we had on Copac users, along with our strategic aims and objectives. He also wanted to work closely with the rest of the Copac team, so they were involved from a very early stage.

To create a new interface they needed strong and current information about users, and they had to work out if there were any gaps in our current information. They asked Copac team member Ashley Sanders to plug some of these gaps with further analysis of site data and Copac Coordinator Shirley Cousins sent out a questionnaire to our users.

This enabled Shiraz to identify and prioritise our user groups, setting in place a foundation for more informed decision making following a user-centred design process. This helped the team prioritise resources towards creating a usable, sustainable and scalable Copac.

A strong message from the user feedback is that ‘Copac saves time and is easy to use’, and our designers were very aware of the need to increase functionality but still keep it simple to use. A challenge, but one that they relished!

Shiraz’s post-it notes of the key messages.

Research on search

Leigh began work on looking for comparators to Copac and analysed what they were doing, what they were doing well and what we could learn from them. He looked at navigation, functionality and learnability of the comparator sites and also did heuristic evaluation and cognitive walkthroughs. Leigh felt that the usability studies that Lorraine Patterson from Edinburgh University did were invaluable to their work on the design.  (She was involved in a JISC project: and performed usability studies on five digital libraries.)

Leigh and Shiraz also did a lot of designing around the tasks that users perform on Copac, to get them as streamlined as possible. Leigh researched user search behaviour and found these resources really useful in informing his design work:


The next step was paper prototyping , a quick and low-tech way of testing the interface. It was easy to show the different elements on a page but it was also easy and quick to change them. They found using Balsamiq: to be really helpful for creating prototypes and wireframes.

Leigh’s low fidelity prototype – results screen

They then began work on the HTML prototype, using a flexible grid approach which they will be able to adapt to different devices. The team were inspired by the work they’d been doing on the Mobile Mimas project. As research shows that most of Copac’s use currently comes through desktop access (though the Mobile Mimas work suggests that this may change in the future), the prototyping so far has been concentrated on the desktop version. Mobile and tablet versions will be part of a phased release: this project won’t end with the launch of the new interface, and future developments will be driven by user needs.

User testing – test early and often!

Although the HTML prototype wasn’t actually attached to the database,it enabled them to start user testing.

They tested the site with University of Manchester academics. It was individual one-to-one testing, using the ‘talk aloud’ protocol, where the user narrates their actions and thoughts. They had to tell Leigh and Shiraz three positives and three negatives about the site, plus what features they would like to see. The results from this testing reinforced the messages from earlier research (new Copac still saves time and is easy to use!)and Leigh and Shiraz felt that the prototype satisfied project expectations and validated their investment in the initial research stage.

User Interface design is an iterative process so they have repeated and repeated testing and design –going from a paper prototype to html prototype to a low fidelity prototype based on the actual database. This time it meant that testers could do real world searches and answered the question – does the new interface actually work with the data?

Thankfully, the answer was ‘yes!’ and they were able to release the design for wider testing. An Alpha version of copac was launched at the 2011CILIP Umbrella conference. Overall, the feedback was positive and was useful in identifying bugs which they were then able to resolve.

Feedback from the Alpha release was used to inform the development of the Beta, including the new feature of listing the holding libraries on the brief results page. This was a major change and something that users had long been keen to see.

They also added the login functionality so that users could try out ‘Search History’ and ‘My References’.  Again, the feedback from the Beta release was very positive and most negative responses mentioned colours, fonts, and text. Shiraz and Leigh were pleased with the feedback because they knew they’d been working on a service that users trusted and they didn’t want to destroy that trust. Leigh quoted Steve Krug  and said “you don’t want to deplete the reservoir of goodwill of your users”. (

What next?

The feedback from the Alpha and Beta releases will allow Leigh and Shiraz to plan more structured user testing in future. They and the Copac team are committed to continually improving the service and, from a user centred design point of view, more testing can only be a good thing!

The new Copac interface will be made public next month. We’d love to hear your feedback, so please contact if you have any questions or comments about the interface.

(Our beta interface can be find here:

Spotlight on the team behind the new Copac website and design: graphic design, part 2

Last week we heard about how Ben Perry, our new graphic designer got started, but this week Ben explains how he came up with the new Copac design.

Archer Font
Image from:

LJ: So how long have you been working for Mimas?

BP: Well it was the start of the year so coming up on 4 months now.

LJ: How is working at a university or in the academic sector different from the commercial world?

BP: When I work for myself as a freelancer, it’s just me in my studio, I have lots of projects on the go, 5 or 6 things bubbling up at any one time and I’m working on different bits of pieces, emailing clients constantly and it’s very hectic and fast paced, I have to try and keep everyone happy and deliver artwork on time for everyone’s deadlines. Whereas at Mimas, it’s much more relaxed and there’s a slower pace to everything. I think mainly because I’m working within a larger team, so it feels like the pressure is slightly off, which is really nice for me because it gives me more time to try and innovate and be creative with what I’m doing and have a bit more attention to detail so we can deliver something that’s absolutely amazing.

Oh… and there’s lots of meetings.

LJ: How do you develop your ideas normally?

BP: I try to gather together all of the elements that make up the project. I’m a strong believer in trying to get people to give me examples of things that they love and things that they hate. If they’ve seen something they love, I can look at it and understand why they love it and likewise if they hate something – I can work out why they don’t like it. I can then boil it down to the underlying ideas of what clients want. I’ve also got lots of books and magazines at home and I like to flip through to get an idea for something.

LJ: How does the process work for you? Do you have an idea pretty quickly?

BP: Normally things just jump out at you, it may be a colour palette that you start working with. Once I’ve synthesised the project brief, I like to get things on the computer. I find working directly in Adobe Illustrator makes it really easy and quick to sketch out ideas rather than actually using a pen and paper.  I can mock up ideas and change things so quickly on the computer, I find my laptop has become my sketchbook. I do have real sketchbooks too because sometimes there’s a need to hand draw something before translating it to screen. But using Illustrator means that get a rough idea of how you want things to look like, which allows you to visualise things so much quicker. And that’s my starting point. I normally try to go a bit wild, create loads of ideas and then stand back from it and take a look at what’s working and what isn’t.

LJ: So how did you start with Copac?

BP: The logo was the initial starting point for the Copac work. Trying to get the typography right, we looked through all the feedback sheets that the Copac team supplied me with and typography was one thing that users picked up on a lot. It needed tightening up and more relevance bringing to it. That’s where the idea for the logo has stemmed from. I always try and tie some relevance into the name or what service is being provided use that to feed into my ideas. Copac’s about searching for books and libraries and is an academic service but it needs to be modern too. So I starting looking at fonts that had that traditional feel to them, yet were modern at the same time. This is when I came up with the idea of using Archer. Archer was commissioned for use on Martha Stewart’s Living magazine, which I felt had the sort of feeling we were looking for. The magazine was about quite traditional topics but with a modern slant.

The website framework was pretty much laid out, so it just a case of tightening things up and bringing a sense of ‘real world-ness’ to the website. It felt flat, lacked depth and the colours were a bit cold. I wanted to give it a bit of texture; a bit of life, make it more three dimensional. I wanted something that was engaging and lifted itself of the screen, so many websites are flat and things in real life have shadows and textures and rich colours and I wanted to bring some of that into the design.

LJ: So did you come up with the concept quite quickly?

BP: I definitely got the idea quite quickly. I liaised with Leigh, the Mimas Web Designer, and luckily he was on the same page as me as to what he wanted to see. I started drafting my ideas and when I sent out my first drafts everyone came back with really positive feedback so thankfully we hit the nail on the head first go.

LJ: Is that usual?

BP: It depends on the client and what they want and whether they trust you to do the job properly. What been really great at Mimas is the sense of trust that I’m given. People are confident in my capabilities and let me get on with it.

You’ll be able to see Ben’s new design for Copac from 1st May. Watch this space.